Author: Mitchell Carpenter

Mitchell Carpenter is a Student Processes Improvement Coordinator at Michigan Technological University.

Being Coached on how to Coach

Hello everyone, I know that this isn’t what we usually do with our blogs–this is more personal. Let me introduce myself. My name is Mitchell Carpenter, I am a second year here at Michigan Tech, and I have been working in the Office of Continuous Improvement for about a year now. One of my co-workers, Rylie Kostreva, recently wrote a blog about how she was going through a coaching process. Since then she has begun to take me through the process as well. Explaining to someone about the process of being “coached on how to coach” can be a bit confusing, so try not to get lost!

My journey through this process began with Rylie asking me a simple question: “Hey, do you want to be coached on how to coach?” At first I wasn’t too sure what she meant, but from what she was telling me about her own journey it sounded interesting. I agreed, and we scheduled a launch meeting. The launch meeting was interesting; she handed me a stack of papers, and we went through what our normal meetings would look like and how I would have some homework to do before each meeting with a reflection to write after. I didn’t know why I was doing any of it; it was just something to do. It very quickly evolved into something that I enjoyed doing; it got personal and helped reveal some things that I didn’t even know about myself.

One of the major things that Rylie had me do was create a leadership statement–a statement that describes who I want to be as a leader and how I want to coach people. I started the process by asking people who are important in my life the question of who I am to them. This helped me better distinguish between what I am doing already and what I want to do in the future. My statement was, “Help people through the labyrinth of life as a friend.” Rylie pointed out that I could have ended it after the word “life” but I didn’t, and that last bit is what made the statement mine. The next task was to make an illustration to go along with my statement. When I did, it didn’t feel complete. Rylie suggested that I do a card activity where I laid out a bunch of pictures and narrowed it down to 5-7 cards. After doing so, a trend emerged, a trend of loneliness and calm. After analyzing this I was able to come up with an illustration that fully captured my statement.

My illustration shows two people, myself being represented as the one in back. This describes my statement because I see myself as being a leader behind the person I’m leading. My focus is to let people lead their own lives, but I’ll help guide them through it, be there for them when they need me, and give them space when they need it. That is who I want to be, a friend first and a coach second.

Rylie then suggested that I go deeper with my analysis of the pictures, so I did. I found that to me loneliness isn’t always bad, it can be needed, but it can also be terrible. It’s something I have experienced a lot in my life and have been afraid of at times. Calm also has a significant role in my life, especially in today’s world it is important to be calm in order to be the voice of reason. Both of these things are important for me to help lead as a friend. I want to keep people from feeling lonely and being afraid of being lonely. As a friend I can help people remain calm in times of distress and make the right decision for them.

My next step is to meet with different people in order to get an outside perspective on my coaching process and possibly have them reveal different aspects of it that I didn’t see. I am looking forward to this next step and can’t wait to see where coaching leads me. This journey has meant a lot to me personally and I am very grateful to Rylie for asking me if I wanted to go through it with her.

Lean Studying

Winter carnival is over and it’s hard to believe that we are already starting week 5 of the semester. And you know what that means… it’s Midterm season. Now, as devastating as that may sound, it’s going to be okay. You’ve got Lean on your side. If you use Lean principles in the correct ways, they can help you become fully prepared for your exams. Lean principles such as Kanbans, Affinity Diagrams, and 5S can help make your studying experience go as smoothly as possible.

The Personal Kanban has been written about many times on this blog, but that’s only because it truly is useful. Personal Kanbans are meant to be used to keep your schedule in tact no matter what you may throw at it. With a Kanban, you can keep track of what you need to do, what you’re currently working on, and what you still need to start. At the office of Continuous Improvement you’ll be able to find Kanbans in almost every corner, as each one of our Process Improvement Coordinators has their Kanban prominently displayed at their workstation. As far as studying, personal Kanbans can be used to keep track of what you need to do to study, so you don’t get caught up in something else and lose track of what you have or have not done yet.

Affinity Diagrams can be used to help you organize your thoughts. Start with an open space such as a table, desk, or wall. Then you take a pad of sticky notes and write down everything you can think of for the subject you are studying. Then you can start sorting them into categories and develop connections between different aspects of those categories. This can help you develop internal connections and help you better relate ideas.

5S is a Lean organizational technique that consists of, surprise, five steps. These steps are: Sort, Set, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain. 5s-ing your work space can help make it cleaner and more organized. It has been shown that having a cleaner work space makes it a less stressful environment and having less stress will allow you to focus on studying. Lean is much more than just a set of tools, to many, it is a lifestyle.

Image result for 5s

The Endgame

Finals week is almost here, many of us are in the lull before the storm when it comes to the world of academics. In the words of Dr. Strange from Avengers: Infinity War, “We’re in the endgame now,” the semester is not over just quite. For some people, these next few weeks of studying may make or break their grade for a class. Here at the Office of Continuous Improvement we hope that you all finish strong. Don’t fret, there are some tools used in Lean culture that can be applied to academics. These are things such as: fishbone diagrams to help find the root cause of a problem, personal kanbans to help keep track of what needs to be done, and 3S for a quick cleanup of your work space (discluding standardization and sustainment for now).

As you can see there are plenty of Lean tools to help you out. If you’re not doing great in a class but can’t figure out why, try making a fishbone diagram or use another tool to get to the root cause of why you may be struggling. Correcting the root cause could give you the boost you need in order to do well these last few weeks and help prevent you from repeating the class or doing the same thing in one of your next classes.

A personal Kanban can also be very useful in helping you keep track of what needs to be done and how much you have already done. Personal Kanbans also help with the separation and prioritization of tasks to complete on a daily basis so due dates don’t sneak up on you and you can see what days will be busy with assignments, allowing you to manage them accordingly. Keeping a personal Kanban can help with the balancing of classes, homework, studying, as well as work and while keeping it all in one place.

It has been suggested that people study better when they are in a clean space. When I am studying my desk usually looks like a mini tornado just passed over my desk. If that sounds familiar, then it may not be a bad idea to do a quick 3S of your work station during a break in your studying. For many people cleaning may even help relieve stress and clear the mind, making it easier to get back into the swing of things after your break is up. Plus, then you get to start up again at a clean work space.

Finals season can be very stressful, especially dividing up study time accordingly and making sure you finish strong in your classes. It may seem as though your life is out of your control, having something in place to either keep a hold of your life or take it back can help take some stress off of your shoulders. These are just some of the Lean tools that may be useful to you during these last few weeks of the semester. If you would like to learn more about these or other Lean tools, feel free to reach out to our office for more resources via email at

Making Your Phone Productive Again

Smartphones, we have come a long way since the early days of the smartphone. The first ones had trackballs and physical keyboards, some of which slid out from under the screen. Back then they were all about productivity. Finally you could have your cell phone, calendar, email, and a basic internet browser all on one device instead of your Star Trek inspired flip phone and a palm pilot. They were the Perfect productivity tools. Then, in 2008, everything changed with the introduction of the iPhone. Since then smartphones have evolved into slabs of glass and metal used by nearly everyone mainly for games and social media. We as a society have lost the meaning of having a smartphone. Today many phones are many times more powerful than the computer that brought people to the moon and we use it to crush digital candy.


250MB Hard drive form 1970’s                                                                           256GB Micro SD Card 2018

Thankfully, there are companies that are looking to put productivity back into the smartphone. These companies are doing this by releasing apps that will track how much time you spend on your phone or help you complete tasks. Among these productivity apps many of them are implementing forms of Lean thinking such as the Trello app that acts as a Personal Kanban. Many of these apps are free and you should definitely check them out. Another useful feature about many of these apps is that a lot of them sync up with your google calendar and have their own website you can bookmark on your computer.
Apps that help boost your productivity can also include those that reduce the time that may be wasted on your phone so you can focus on getting tasks done and not being distracted. One of these is called Forest, it costs a few dollars but what it does can be worth it. Forest simulates a small plot of land on your screen and your goal is to grow a forest, the catch is your forest only grows when the app is open. So, in order to grow your forest you have to open the app and leave your phone alone without opening anything else. The best part is, based on how large your forest is, the company behind the app will plant a certain number of real trees. You could also simply turn your phone off and put it away.
These kinds of apps can be very useful for those trying to live a Lean focused life in the age of pocket capable computers and time wasting crazes. These machines that were made to make our lives more productive have turned into social media and gaming devices that fit into our pockets. So, if you are looking to be more productive and use these wonderful inventions for what they were intended for, look into productivity apps, many of them have aspects of Lean and continuous improvement mixed in.

Lean Hospitals

If you listen to the news, you aren’t going to hear much on car crashes unless there has been a very bad one, or it is just a slow news day and they have nothing else to report. Plane crashes will be on the news whether it was a relatively minor incident, or a major one. This shows the two ways we can view a defect or a problem, either as a car crash, an inevitable incident that is bound to happen, or as a plane crash, a zero tolerance policy.

I recently watched a video that showed how these two different lines of thinking can have an enormous impact on someone’s life. This video was called “Do No Harm” by VOX on YouTube, and it outlines how treating an infection as a “car crash” or a “plane crash” can determine the life and death of patients in hospitals. During the video, an interview is conducted with the mother of a little girl named Nora, who had been born with an underdeveloped lung. Because of this defect, Nora had to have what is called a central line implant: a tube that is inserted into a vein that leads directly to the heart and is used for the speedy delivery of medicine and easy blood draws. An infection of this line can be very serious and extremely life-threatening.  Nora had four of these infections.  Because of these infections, she passed away just before her fourth birthday. Nora’s mother wrote a letter to the hospital where she was treated, outlining what she had seen and offered feedback. The hospital responded with a letter that stated “… We understand and recognize your feelings regarding Nora’s care and we apologize that you were dissatisfied with your experience…” This hospital treated central line infections like car crashes, an unavoidable risk, instead of something that could be prevented.

Central Line

The second hospital shown in the video had a team of nurses who experienced many central line infections a few years back, and they decided to do something about it. They asked themselves if having zero infections was even possible, but one of the RNs at the hospital leading the project stated “You cannot accept good enough, you have to eliminate those [infections]…” The team used two books to aid them in their mission:  “The Toyota Way” by Jeffery Liker and “Toyota Kata” by Mike Rother. With them, the hospital was able to adopt some aspects of Lean and Continuous Improvement, and together, the nurses developed practices that minimize the chance of exposure to something that can infect the central line. The team implemented a zero tolerance policy towards central line infections and this hospital went seven years without a single infection.

Lean books

The video ends with the team going to talk to an expert on central lines and how to prevent infections in them. The expert stated that their first step in preventing infections was treating every infection as a defect, finding the root cause of the problem, and finding a way to prevent it from happening again.

Treating problems in this way is Lean Thinking, and this is a real-life example that shows the way we approach problems can have a real impact on the outcomes. Before, manufacturing had been the go-to example for implementing Lean, but this video is an amazing example of how Lean and Continuous Improvement can be implemented in all kinds of areas, and what the results can look like when it is.

Welcome Mitchell Carpenter


Welcome Mitchell Carpenter

A newcomer to our team of PICs is Mitchell Carpenter. He is from Grand Rapids, Michigan, and is currently a Second year Materials Science and Engineering major here at Michigan Tech. He is returning after having finished his training at the end of last semester, but has already started to integrate parts of Lean culture into his everyday life.

Mitchell will now tell us a bit about himself!

Hello everyone, I’m Mitchell and I am from Ada, Michigan, which is just East of Grand Rapids. I went to Forest Hills Central High school and graduated there with the class of 2017. I have been in contact with the Continuous improvement team here at Michigan Tech since the summer of 2017  when I met them at a Lean conference in Traverse City. I was there with the director of Continuous Improvement at a company I had an internship with called Nucraft Furniture. This is where I was first introduced to the concept of Lean and Continuous Improvement.

The philosophy behind Lean and Continuous Improvement has fascinated me ever since I was introduced to it. The fact that there was actually a name for a culture around striving to make things more efficient blew my mind since I have enjoyed problem solving and efficiency since childhood.

I am excited to be a part of the PIC team here at Michigan Tech. I was a part of this office for about three weeks before the end of last year and I can already tell that I am going to like it here. I am thankful for this opportunity and I look forward to learning more about Lean as I continue my career here in the office of Continuous Improvement.